When you consult a solicitor, your conversations and the advice you receive are covered by legal professional privilege. This means all your communications are confidential and protected from disclosure – even to official bodies like HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
However, this protection relating to legal advice is only available when consulting lawyers – it does not extend to other professions such as accountants.
This principle was reaffirmed in a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court involving the Prudential and HMRC. The Prudential argued that accountants should be able to offer clients the same legal protection from disclosure as lawyers when advising on tax law.
The court rejected this argument saying that extending legal privilege to other professions would carry an unacceptable risk of uncertainty. It was unclear whether certain occupations would be regarded as professions, and unclear how a court was to decide whether a profession was one which ordinarily included giving legal advice.
The move was welcomed by the chief executive of the Law Society, Desmond Hudson, who said: “A lawyer’s duties and responsibilities to the client and to the courts are not available on a pick ‘n’ mix basis. The relationship between a solicitor or barrister and his or her client is a precious human right, tested and refined by centuries of common law.”
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